Tag Archives: women

International Women’s Day: Equally Celebrated?

There will be many articles and vociferous comments today, on the 100th anniversary of the first ever International Women’s Day, about whether women have indeed achieved true equality, all over the world. I  do not plan to add to those articles (my thoughts on the subject would probably burst out of their blog corset and rearrange themselves into a book, if they could).  Instead, I would like to explore how Womens’ Day is celebrated around the world.

I had no taste for so-called Communist rituals while living in Romania in the 1980’s.  Military parades, Young Pioneers, Labour Day demos were events they would try and force us pupils to attend and that we would try to avoid at all costs.  Women’s Day seemed to my uninformed adolescent mind to be just such a Soviet invention, made worse by the fact that we had to pay homage to the Mother of the Nation, that ’eminent scientist, politician, wife and mother’ Elena Ceausescu.  My parents would make me buy flowers for the female teachers and that was that.

Perhaps it’s a sign of old age.  Although I am not exactly growing nostalgic about International Women’s Day, I am considerably more concerned about it now than in my (more visibly feminist) youth.  And of course, now I am aware that it wasn’t a Communist invention in the first place!

First of all, I think it’s a shame that Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day gets such prominence in the Western Society, while Women’s  Day goes largely unnoticed.  Are we implying that women only add value in their roles as mothers and lovers/spouses, that they can only be defined through others?

Secondly, however hateful and hypocritical the public cult of Elena Ceausescu was, I think it’s significant that, unlike the spouses of political leaders in much of the Western world, she was celebrated not just as a wife and mother, but also as a politican and scientist in her own right.  She was equally applauded for her career and her contribution to society (fake though those claims were, obviously).  While Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Sarkozy and Mrs. Brown had to at least temporarily suspend their careers so that they can more fully support their husbands, that kind of rhetoric was never present in Romania.  Sexist society, where women get wolf-whistled daily and then go home to do all the cooking and housework?  You bet!  But more equality in the job market and career expectations at least.

Thirdly, looking at the official International Women’s Day website, which is designed to bring together information and listings for events around the globe, I notice a huge number of events listed for UK, US, Canada and Australia, which almost seems to contradict my first point.  But if we look closely at the type of events, many of them are quite small initiatives and have been uploaded conscientously by their organisers.  In other countries only 1-2 events are listed (usually organised by the English-speaking community), so I am  not sure this list fully captures the range of global events and thoughts on the topic.

Fourth and final observation, I notice art and music seems to be one of the preferred ways of celebrating this day.  I can’t help pondering if that is because women prefer to express themselves that day (or are perceived to prefer it), or because it is a less controversial way of approaching the subject.  What do you think?


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Valentine’s Day Around the World

Call me an old grumpy boots, but I don’t like Valentine’s Day.  I don’t see the point of spending a lot of money on overpriced chocolates, flowers and cards, when the best way to show your love is to be thoughtful and helpful the remaining 364 days of the year!

Yet last night I managed not to laugh as my little sons painstakingly wrote and illustrated their very first Valentine’s cards.  I suppose my ‘bah-humbug’ attitude has something to do with the fact that I grew up in countries where this day was never celebrated.  It was a shock to the system to arrive in the UK at the age of 25 and have to comfort grown women crying on my shoulder because they hadn’t received any secret Valentines…

Of course international florists and confectionery companies have tried to expand the tradition worldwide, but some countries are still bravely holding out.  In China, for instance, the day of love falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, and it’s more geared towards the celebration of daughters and hoping they will find a suitable marriage partner.  In Romania and Bulgaria the 1st of March is celebrated, both as a way of thanking women for their contribution to the family and society, and also to celebrate the arrival of Spring.  In Japan, traditionally it used to be the women who were pampered with gifts on the 14th of March, but in recent years women have started giving gifts to their lovers as well.  When?  Well, conveniently enough, a month earlier, on the 14th of February – reciprocity being, of course, very important in Japanese culture.

Although even the above countries are succumbing somewhat to the commercial phenomenon of Valentine’s Day, Brazil is still steadfastly against it.  They have a ‘love day’ in June, but February is just too busy with carnival to worry about anything else.

Symbol of Sprin

Martisor - symbol of spring

So I’ll neither encourage nor discourage my children to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  After all, they have to fit in with their schoolmates.  But I will subtly let them know it’s not important if you don’t receive any Valentines, and that there are other days in the year too for expressing their feelings.  And they’d better learn to give me a Martisor on the 1st of March, or else…!

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Feminism today

Feminism changed women’s lives – but was it for the better?

This was the provocative question that Irma Kurtz, Rosie Thomas and Linda Kelsey were debating today at the Henley Literary Festival.  Or at least, that’s what I was expecting.  But I have to admit I was rather disappointed.   Some important points were made (about freedom and responsibility, about changing legislation and mindsets, or about young men feeling ignored by the feminist movement) but on the whole I felt that the conversation stopped just where it should have started.

I don’t know if the genteel surroundings of Henley were to blame, or the desire to please an audience decidedly of the 40+ demographic, but the controversial topic of  ‘can women have it all and if not, why not?’ was avoided.  Only at the very end did a young woman in the audience, working for an accountancy firm in the City, ask about her slender chances of making it to partner level and what impact that would have on her future family.

The reply?  She was told that  at least nowadays you have the freedom to choose between career and motherhood, and you can also choose to work part-time.  But you have to accept that if you are part-time you are not going to be taken as seriously as someone who is fully dedicated to their career and is present 24/7. 

When was the last time a man was told he had the freedom to choose between his career or fatherhood?  And when can we all learn to move beyond a culture of presenteeism at the office and accept that part-time hours does not mean part-time commitment?  When will we as a society care more about the way we raise the future generation and reward the men and women who do it well (and who share the burden)?

The Sixties Debate: Was Feminism Worth the Fight? at Henley Literary Festival

Alas, methinks there is still some changing of mindsets to do, when the panel members at a feminist debate are still buying into this cultural fallacy.

Also sad:  the fact that so many women in the audience (and on stage) prefaced their remarks with ‘I do not consider myself a feminist’.

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Do we admire bullies?

What’s the difference between bullying and harassment in the workplace?  Simple: harassment is an offence and you can take someone to court for it.  Bullying is not.  Or not yet, if the largest public sector trade union Unison has anything to say about it.  Last week, they launched a Bully Busters campaign together with women’s magazine ‘Company’ to highlight the extent of bullying suffered by young women in organisations in the UK.  About one third have been bullied recently or regularly at work.  The full findings are available here: http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1605

I found the entire survey results disturbing, but a couple of them particularly struck me:

1) The vast majority of the bullies are women in more senior positions

What does that say about female solidarity and helping each other succeed in the male-dominated workplace?  Or about the pressure that women feel they are under to emulate the image of what is perceived to be the successful male senior manager?  The lone ranger CEO who comes in to reivent the organisation, never mind the emotional cost?

2) Management is too geared towards performance and are exploiting job insecurity to get away with bullying. 

35% even believe TV programmes (i.e., shows like ‘The Apprentice’) are responsible for a tacit acceptance of bullying as part of organisational culture.  Sarcasm and quickfire gut responses may make for great telly, but they are not ideal managerial tools in a real organisation.  Clearly, also, the credit crunch is forcing managers to squeeze more out of fewer people to reach increasingly unachievable targets, so the ‘niceness’ and consultative approach to management is falling by the wayside.

3) Bullying policies are ineffective. 

Most organisations do have some kind of bullying and harassment policy in place, but they are seldom enforced.  Perhaps the terms are too vague to be useful, as 65% of the respondents thought.  Or perhaps bullying can be done so subtly that it is difficult to pin down.  As my favourite headmaster said recently: ‘Don’t believe the school that says they have no bullying – there is bullying everywhere.  It’s just more hidden.’  If you look carefully, you’ll see the signs in the workplace too.  Simple things, like not letting someone be part of the ‘in’ group, spreading oh-so-amusing little gossip stories about someone, constant monitoring disguised as concern…


Recognise any of these bullying tendencies, or experienced them  yourself?  Have you ever felt you had to act like a bully in order to live up to the company’s expectations and hit your targets?  Are we still too much in thrall to the strong, decisive, fearsome manager as the epitome of success?


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